December 4th, 2013
12:20 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama says wage and income gap eroding American dream

Updated 1:41 p.m. ET, 12/4/2013

Washington (CNN) – The growing gap between rich and poor Americans is threatening the ideals the country was founded upon, President Barack Obama said in remarks Wednesday that appeared to signal a leftward turn in his economic agenda.

Making sure that the U.S. economy works for every working American is "the defining challenge of our time," Obama said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. He later said the "dangerous and growing" income and opportunity gap is jeopardizing the notion that if people work hard, they can get ahead.

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“The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough, but the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty, because she lacks a decent education or health care or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us,” Obama said during his remarks.

To combat the chasm between haves and have-nots, Obama called for a hike in the federal minimum wage, saying an increase is a good step for families and the economy as a whole.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 an hour. A proposal would boost it to about $10, and the White House has said Obama supports such a measure.

On Wednesday, Obama also made a general push to simplify the tax code, provide more work training in high schools, and make it easier for Americans to save for retirement.

Those are notions Obama has presented before; however, by packaging them into a clear plan for the next three years, Obama seemed to be making a play to revive his core of liberal supporters, who over the past several months have weathered the disappointments of his health care rollout and allegations of NSA spying.

Obama took sharp aim at Republicans during his remarks, saying they had failed to present their own plans for pulling Americans out of poverty.

“If Republicans have concrete plans that will actually reduce inequality, build the middle class, provide more ladders of opportunity to the poor, let's hear them. I want to know what they are,” Obama said.

And he made a forceful call for lawmakers to extend emergency unemployment insurance by the end of the year, saying “Christmastime is no time for Congress to tell more than one million of these Americans” they’ve lost those benefits.

The speech came as public approval of Obama sinks to new lows. The botched rollout of, coupled with stories of people losing their health plans, has contributed to the drop, but more Americans also say they disapprove of the President's handling of the economy, five years after the downturn.

A CNN/ORC Poll taken in November showed 59% of respondents said things were going badly in the country today. Thirty-nine percent - a plurality - said economic conditions are getting worse.

While Wall Street indexes and corporate earnings have reached new highs, the situation for low and middle class Americans has largely remained dire, including a jobless rate that remains high and scores of people who have given up looking for work.

The current economy is “profoundly unequal,” Obama proclaimed on Wednesday.

“Growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America's basic bargain, that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead,” Obama said. “I believe this is the defining challenge of our time, making sure our economy works for every working American.”

The problem of income disparity, and the fight for a higher minimum wage, have gained renewed attention in the past weeks - low wage fast food workers have staged one-day strikes across the country demanding higher paychecks, and protesters stood outside Wal-Marts and other box stores on Black Friday demanding employees be paid better.

Obama's remarks Wednesday took place at a theater and arts facility in Washington's Southeast quadrant, an area of the capital where incomes remain low and 45% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Filed under: Economy • President Obama • Washington D.C.
soundoff (397 Responses)
  1. The REAL Truth...

    @Fed Up American – My husband went to college and he can't find a job in his field and it's in the medical industry. We both came from wealthy homes and can only afford one child with both of our incomes. Why, because we pay for our health insurance, we have a mortgage, we have car insurance, we get taxes taken out of our check! Enforce the "fair tax" and you will quickly see how the economy changes.
    Lady, you are FAR FROM alone.. but we will never see a fair tax.. as it's ALWAYS been slanted in favor of the 1%. When someone like Romney takes in $42M and [legally] pays a LOWER percentage in Federal Income Taxes than Joe Q Public who takes home $50 or $100K we have a problem Houston. The WEALTHY that run Congress have no desire to implement a "fair tax".. as it hurts them and their sponsors.

    I'm expecting the idjits to start posting that "the wealthy pay more than 70% of all income tax"... defending the very folks who are ripping them off. So what? They have the LOWEST tax rates in 100 yrs and historically GDP has been higher when tax rates have been higher. The economy was humming along quite happily at the highest tax rates of 70%, then along came Reagan and we now have massive inequality.

    December 4, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  2. kelly

    What about giving small business tax breaks for hiring people. Encourage buisness to hire people for over a year.those tax breaks can be less than what those new working tax paying employees contribute in tax revenue. Hopefully it will be better than what our inflated government pays for the unemployed.

    December 4, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  3. Frank

    This is the way the world is working. This is hapenning all over the world. This has nothing to do with aho the president is. This has to do with greed. When the rich wants more, and for them to get more, they take it away from the middle working class. If a company owner wants more money, the company will work short giving less hours to workers and/or not hiring new people. That's how they keep the profit higher exhausting workers. Now don't get me wrong, I cant say all owners are like this but greed is something that affects many human beings. That's why raising the minimum wage is important because there is nothing an owner can do about that. And nowadays, 10 dollars is nothing. 10 dollars is worth what 7 dollars was about a decade ago. This is 2013 already, its hard to believe the minimum wage is still 7 dollars an hr. This country has gone through a tremendous inflation the past decade. Raising the minimum wage is NEEDED because of inflation, not just because of the people. It's only fair.

    December 4, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  4. Graeme from Ottawa

    The less poor are fighting with the poor, instead of the wealthy in America, pathetic. Upward mobility is the fundamental reason the system has lasted this long. If it does improve the people will take down capitalism with a bang and that can spawn monsters like Hitler. Greed = Graves

    December 4, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. Barack "it's not my fault" Obama

    Obama is hysterical. He truly is a laugh a minute. He has nothing but foolish talking points. I don't think this man could handle running a shoe store, much less an entire country. As bad as he is you just have to shake your head and chuckle once in awhile to keep from going crazy. Thanks for the laughs you inept circus clown.

    December 4, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  6. jdw62305

    As long as the FED keeps printing $80 Billion per month to stabilize the economy, our "net worth" wages are shrinking. This helps the wealthy get even more wealthy, and hurts the rest of us. Until they stop this practice, we might as well all learn Mandarin Chinese.

    December 4, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  7. shehar39

    it is a proven fact that the income gap grows under socialism

    December 4, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. American Code Jockey

    Try securing the borders to stop illegal immigrants from displacing American workers and driving down wages. Then reverse the tide of H1B Visa workers being imported to give the kids we do manage to educate a shot at getting a decent paying job.

    December 4, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  9. nomad2003

    Mr. Obama, simple economics.... people are paid what the job is worth, they are not paid by what a person is worth.

    Want a better job? learn some more skills.

    And it is your policies that are creating it... with 70% of new jobs being part time jobs.

    December 4, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  10. Sam

    This is not the richest nation in the world. Lower income individuals should spend more time coming up with ways to better themselves and less time voting for socialists who will give them things. Maybe instead of putting all your eggs in the 'becoming lebron James or a rapper basket' you might want to study a functional skill.

    December 4, 2013 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  11. ikadshi

    Yes the minimum wage does need to increase because it stopped being adjusted for inflation ever since the super rich took hold of our political situation. For those claiming that this will cause inflation, guess what it stopped being adjusted for inflation so now it will actually present it.

    December 4, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  12. Ricardo Díaz

    Please stop Mr. President, where do you get economics advise? From Maduro in Venezuela maybe?

    December 4, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  13. Wade

    That is so sad to hear OBAMA The hypocrite LIAR talk about this since he has done more to make Americans poorer than any previous president. 94 % of all gains under Obama have gone to the top 1%. Why is it that CNN who works to protect Obama does not report the truth? Americans are their poorest since 1960!

    December 4, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  14. Rich

    The purpose of minimum wage is not to guarantee everyone a chance to "get ahead"; it is to set an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM legal standard. No one making the lowest possible legal wage should be expecting to get ahead. To get ahead you should get a better education and a better job. As usual liberals seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word "minimum".

    If you really want to help these folks get ahead, give them a better economy with better jobs, a better education system with better teachers and higher standards, and a better government that works efficiently instead of one designed to buy people's votes. Stop looking for easy, painless, "tax-the-rich" solutions to every problem.

    December 4, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  15. Richard

    Sam, you nailed it

    December 4, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  16. jerrylax

    no kidding obama, after five years of your policy, lies, and spinning. No kidding. Why don't you go back where you came from…and soap box?

    December 4, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  17. American Worker

    Why is President Obama oblivious to the fact that his ACA sacred cow just balloon income disparity?

    December 4, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  18. hurtsdonut

    Got to love the way they changed their talking points to include "opportunity inequality". It's all about branding and selling an agenda. Much like the way they stopped bringing up claims of children starving (to justify handouts). After people realized no one in the US has starved from poverty in about 100 years, they changed it to "food insecurity".

    Our laws and educational system give EVERYONE the same opportunities. What you do with it is your own choice. You almost have to put effort into failing in this country.

    December 4, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  19. Grooveman

    I find it perplexing that only 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the West continues to implement laws that mimic all of the failed policies of our former "communist" foes. Our current president won the election by promising to "spread the wealth around." But… truth be told… we don't have to look to Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union to find a society destroyed by coercion, socialism, and the overreaching power of the State. We could just look at Detroit…

    December 4, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  20. Rich

    Reply to The REAL Truth

    People keep bringing up how some rich folks pay a lower % in income tax than less wealthy folks. What they fail to recognize is that the reason for this is that most wealthy individuals make the majority of their income from capital gains, not wages. Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate for everyone, not just the wealthy, and for good reason. When you have a job that pays a $40,000 salary, you are guaranteed that $40,000 salary as long as you have that job. But when you invest half a million dollars to try and make $40,000 profit, you have NO guarantees. You can lose every penny of your half mil, and are only able to write off $3,000 of your loss each year on taxes. The lower capital gains tax rate rewards people who take that risk and provide the capital needed to make our economy work. No one ever talks about the many, many individuals who were once wealthy and then have gone broke.

    One suggested way to resolve this is the following: tax capital gains at one tax bracket lower than a person's corresponding wage bracket. So for example, if you would pay 25% tax on wages and the next lower bracket is 20%, you would pay 20% on your capital gains. Capital gains would still be getting favorable treatment, but would be taxed in a progressive fashion similar to wages, and a wealthy person would always pay at least the same total % rate as someone in a lower bracket, regardless of wages vs capital gains.

    December 4, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Dominican mama

    I gave up on this thread for the better part of the day. I have just read your post (and others responses re subject of your post) and I am appalled that she with her history would even dare finger point her disdain. If my memory serves she is on recent record of stating that another's post made her want to vomit.

    Yeah. Now that is as civil as it gets ...yes?

    December 4, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  22. Max

    Socialism. His speech remind me Hugo Chavez ,,, after a chain of failure from domestic to foreign issues now some populist speech.

    December 4, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  23. hkirwin

    Free healthcare is not going to bridge the income gap, neither are food stamps, subsidies, debt or part time jobs. The poor will need to work harder, smarter, and take responsibility for their own future.

    December 4, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  24. karenjay

    Sad Obama doesn't recognize the role of government in helping create this income gap. "Help" to the poor often traps them and enslaves them as they can't do better by working and "help" to corporations protects them from competition. Both sources of "help" help create this income gap.

    December 4, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  25. Idiocracy Forward

    Gee I wonder why.

    December 4, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
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